Western Cape Tourist Attractions Whale Watching in St Sebastian Bay
St Sebastian Bay, and the waters off De Hoop Nature Reserve, are known as the whale nursery of southern Africa there is such a high concentration of southern right whales during their annual winter migration. The bay is relatively solitary, with little development other than the seaside hamlets of Witsand and Infanta. The rest of the coastline is given over to private nature reserves.
Where? Cape Overberg Region, Western Cape
When? Open daily.
A 2011 survey counted 85 whales and 40 calves in the bay during the season - at least sixty per cent of all the calves seen between Muizenberg and Nature's Valley. An incredible comeback considering they have only been under protection for 40 years. These figures probably make St Sebastian Bay the largest gathering of right whale cow-calf pairs in the world, bar the Peninsula Valdes region of Argentina.
Which means that the towns of Witsand and Infanta, settled on either side of the mouth of the Breede River as it enters the bay, have much to boast about.
Witsand - Lying south east of Swellendam, the village of Witsand regards itself as the true home of the southern right whale. Its position three and a half hours' drive from Cape Town makes it the destination of the more hardened whale devotee, prepared to spend a long weekend communing with the leviathans, rather than the average enthusiast who tends to make it only as far as Hermanus or Gansbaai - still do-able as a day trip.
Because of this, Witsand remains a peaceful town. Residents regard themselves as custodians. As a result you will find elements such as a whalewatching platform on the roof of the local beach restaurant with a telescope that magnifies the whales up to 10 times. It accommodates up to 90 people at a time, which gives one an idea as to the number of devotees that might head this way when the whales are in the bay.
Infanta rests on a rocky headland separated only by the mouth of the Breede River from Witsand. Both lay claim to spectacular whale watching.
The difference is that to reach Infanta requires a trip along a gravel road via Malgas that is, by all accounts, not in the best condition. You can also get there across the Breede River from Witsand, but you need your own boat as there is not a regular ferry crossing. What Infanta has over Witsand is its size. There are but 50 permanent residents in this seaside village, and roughly 180 homes. For this reason Infanta is jealously guarded by those who live there.
De Hoop - De Hoop's beaches are one of the hidden secrets of the whale season. As far as shore-based whale watching goes, Koppie Alleen and Klipkoppie are unbeatable. The reserve extends some three kilometres out to sea protecting some of the best intertidal ecosystems in the Cape. And the whales have moved into these safe waters as their numbers at Witsand have increased.
Through De Hoop reserve traverses the famous Whale Trail. Hikers list it as one of the best hikes in the country. This five-day, 55 kilometre hike from Potberg to Koppie Alleen was developed by Cape Nature. It is awe inspiring to crest a cliff and look out over the sea to find some 50 whales in the waters below.
But you don't have to do the trail to see the whales. De Hoop's long, virtually deserted stretches of beach, even in August, host great numbers of whales, allowing one to simply lie soporifically on the beach and watch them pass back and forth or follow them around the headland.